It was raining at our house in Winter Springs. Over on the coast, it was dry, but threatening. The clouds were just awesome – I even spotted some that looked like Mammatus clouds.
Next time I’ll leave a bit earlier – the light was a little dim for bird photography but I did see a few. I’m usually there in the morning and they behave differently in the evening. It was interesting to watch them going home in formation to roost for the night and to spot groups perched in trees and lined up along power lines.
Stars above the causeway at Parrish Park – Looking SW, before dawn.
When we’d all arrived, we carpooled over to East Gator Creek Road for sunrise. Since it was so clear before dawn, I didn’t think it would be very good. But once again, Mother Nature surprised me, and a set of clouds moved in to add interest and color to the sky.
After daybreak, we drove on around East Gator Creek Road and then Blackpoint Wildlife Drive looking for birds. We didn’t have to look too hard – they’re out force!
We saw many species and huge numbers of some of them. White Pelicans were especially plentiful, both foraging in the water and soaring above us. There were other huge formations of ducks flying over, but they were too high for me to ID. One smaller flock flew very low right down the road. I didn’t see them coming and the noise when they passed startled me.
We also saw Ring billed Gulls, a Bonaparte’s Gull, a some Forster’s Terns, Least Terns, a Black Skimmer, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Blue winged Teals, Lesser Scaups, Red Breasted Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, Pied billed Greebes, Greater Yellowlegs, Sandpipers, Killdeer, Roseate Spoonbills, a Bald Eagle, Ospreys, Loggerhead Shrikes, Savanah Sparrows, Red winged Blackbirds, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Wood Storks, Reddish Egrets, a White Morph Redish Egret, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Tri-colored Herons, Belted Kingfishers, and maybe a few others.
Cooperative Loggerhead Shrike
Highlights also included a very cooperative Shrike that sat still while we all made way too many photos of it, a bald eagle that flew right overhead, and two life birds for me (the Bonaparte’s Gull and Greater Yellowlegs). It’s definitely birding season at MINWR!
As a side note: I got an email from a Flickr contact that’s going to be in the area for a couple of days. They wanted some hints on how to see everything while they’re here, especially Gatorland, Viera Wetlands, and Merritt Island. I did pass along some hints. But then I had to tell them that’s a lot to see in 2 days! The good news is that you’re almost certain to see some good things in those places. The bad news is that you can’t possibly see everything in that short a time – it’s just too large an area and the weather / wildlife might not cooperate. The key is to relax, enjoy being there and be ready with your camera for whatever comes your way. I hope I’m not misleading people into thinking that they can photograph all the things they see here on the blog on their first time out. It takes persistence and even some luck.
I’m extremely fortunate to live near the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the more I learn about it, the bigger and better it seems. I’ve been going to Blackpoint Wildlife Drive for several years, but only recently started exploring other locations in the Refuge. If you only have a short time to visit, Blackpoint is a great place to see – but there’s so much more. If you have time, visit East Gator Creek Road, Shiloh Marsh Road, Bio-Lab Road, Scrub Ridge Trail and other areas. Look here for maps of these and other MINWR trails.
Kevin M., Lutfi and I were in place on East Gator Creek Road this morning in time for sunrise. It was my first time at this spot and I was very happy with the views. Highly recommended for sunrise shots!
Merritt Island Sunrise
Next, we drove up to Shiloh Marsh Road. We were able to drive in only a short distance from either end before the way was blocked by chains – I think for duck hunting season. If you decide to drive this road, check to make sure it’s open and make sure your vehicle has plenty of ground clearance. There are some grand canyon sized potholes out there.
After Shiloh, we drove Blackpoint Wildlife Drive. This road was resurfaced this year and is in very good shape. Not too many potholes here.
Little Green Heron in flight; I made this photo very close to the same spot a few weeks ago – is this the same bird?
Finally, we headed over to the MINWR Visitor Center to see if the Painted Buntings had arrived for the winter. But it was closed too – we’re not sure why.
Today was a wonderful day for wildlife and nature watching. We saw Spoonbills, Ospreys, Redish Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willets, Little Green Herons, Belted Kingfishers, Tri-Color Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Crabs, a deer, flowers, Bald Eagles, Ibis, European Sparrows, Cormorants, Anhingas, Cardinals and butterflys among other things.
Butterfly and flower
For more info on MINWR, this search will bring up other things I’ve written about it. And you can view some other photos I’ve made at the Refuge on Flickr here, and here.